In this year of constant “zooming,” you are not alone in feeling like you have just run a 5K or been hit by a truck after leaving a meeting. Many employees and managers are reporting that online video-conferences are surprisingly draining – often more so than in-person meetings.
“With Zoom calls, you’re ‘on’ 100% of the time, which is so mentally draining,” says Jia Wertz, a documentary filmmaker in New York City.
But why do you feel so exhausted after a few hours of zooming when you’re not actually zooming around or doing anything except sitting and staring at a screen? There is a lot of information that your brain is having to process when you’re on a zoom call. Instead of focusing on one person’s facial expressions and body language, you’re processing at least 10 at the same time while also probably staring at yourself and thinking you should have put a nicer shirt on.
Simultaneously, you’re also deciphering tone and pitch of a speaker’s voice, worrying that an awkward silence might be your internet bugging out or you have the lucky fortune of being in a meeting where multiple people always talk over one another- It’s a lot.
“Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. “-Gianpiero Petriglieri
It also doesn’t help that aspects of our lives that used to be separate – school, work, hobbies, friends, family, church – are all now happening from our computer screen. The self-complexity theory suggests that there are many aspects of our sense of self and most of them depend on context and other variables which leads to a healthy variety. According to Petriglieri, “Most of our social roles happen in different places, but now the context has collapsed. Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now.” Finally, add a global pandemic and it can make you want to escape to a remote cabin in the woods and call it a year.
Dealing with Zoom as an Introvert or Low Exhibition Scorer
Although experts have shown that zoom fatigue is a real thing despite where you land on the extrovert/introvert spectrum, for more extroverted, “life of the party” (high exhibition and networking scorers) people, this type of high-energy environment might not seem too bad on it’s own. However, for more introverted types, a day of constant zooming sounds miserable.
“I’m an introvert, and they totally drain me,” says Hannah Morgan, a job search strategist in Rochester, New York, and founder of Career Sherpa.
You’re not alone, Hannah. Although the constant processing of multiple non-verbal cues and people unmuted can be stressful, I’ve realized that the main reason I feel this same exhaustion is because instead of performing maybe once a month as a classical soloist, I’m doing some version of it almost everyday.
When we are physically on camera, we are very aware that we’re being watched which creates a new level of anxiety for people who don’t like to be in the limelight. According to Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness, “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” As a low exhibition scorer, I’m wiped after a couple hours of zooming everyday.
Additionally, not only are elements of performance anxiety plaguing those who don’t like to be center stage 24/7, video calls aren’t great for more introverted minds. If you’re an introvert, you probably come up with your best ideas after you’ve had some time to reflect, not when you’re put on the spot. Zoom meetings, however, are all about putting people on the spot because that’s the only way they work. According to Thea Orozco, author of the book, The Introvert’s Guide to the Workplace, “Because it’s much harder to understand when someone is done talking on a video call, an introvert who needs to pause and collect their thoughts as they talk may struggle with being frequently interrupted, adding to the frustration and overwhelm of group video calls.” Thus, people who don’t usually speak up in meetings are even less inclined to do so on Zoom.
So how can more introverted types deal with zoom fatigue and anxiety without looking absent in meetings or having to suddenly turn into the “life of the party”? Here are six ideas for employees and managers:
Turn off Self-View
One of the weirdest things about Zoom is that you’re having a conversation with someone while simultaneously watching yourself, which can cause a lot of distraction, anxiety and self-consciousness. Thus, one of the greatest things you can do is “hide your self-view,” which hides your video and more closely mimics an in-person conversation. However, note that this only works in meetings with three or more people. The Hide Self View option is still there in a call with only one other person, but it doesn’t actually do anything. As a workaround, you can switch to Gallery View or fullscreen mode.
Have your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead
According to Petriglieri, “Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings. It makes you feel like you’re in an adjoining room, so may be less tiring.”
Utilize the Chat
One of the advantages of video conferences for introverts is the Chat- especially on huge, overwhelming calls. If you’re an introvert and need more time to process your thoughts, you can simply enter them in the chat instead of trying to find the perfect second to interject or fearing being put on the spot. Similarly, managers should encourage the use of the chat box to encourage participation from both your quieter and louder employees.
Build in Transitions
In an attempt to separate your social spheres, build in transitions between zoom calls. Go for a walk around the block, make a hot drink, do some yoga. These breaks allow us to put one identity aside and then go to another.
Allow people to turn off their camera sometimes
To combat the performance anxiety that can result from too many Zoom calls, schedule occasional meetings that are audio-only, or where the camera can be directed away so you are not always onscreen.
Reduce the Amount of Meetings
Finally, I think we’ve all been subjected to video calls that could’ve been an email. According to Orozco, “Before they schedule anything, managers should determine the goals of the video call, and whether the same thing can be accomplished in a less time-intensive way, like through emails.” As an employee, you can also bring up zoom fatigue to your manager and offer a solution like a shared doc etc. in lieu of another zoom. At the end of the day, we don’t need to be having video-calls for every tiny thing- a good old-fashioned email or phone call often does the trick!